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Do you think Asian food is supposed to be cheap?

I'm curious about how most Chowhounders think about Asian cuisine. Over the years I have seen many postings about various types of Asian cuisine. I have noticed that several postings claim that Korean restaurants are too expensive and that Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants are so cheap by comparison. There seems to me an underlying criticism and questioning as to why this is the case. I think we should be careful about generalizations in this context because all too often they do not take into consideration other factors such as quality of ingredients, service, location, atmosphere, labor and what you're getting for the money you're paying. There are high class and expensive Chinese restaurants as there are whole-in-the-wall cheap Korean restaurants in New York. There are also restaurants in between.Let me know what you think?

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  1. The chinese lunch buffet and lunch specials are a great value - usually about 5.95, includes soup and tea. Can't beat that. Dinner priced chinese is not such a great deal, most entrees are about $10. But still not crazy priced.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jeanmarieok

      I think for me the whole line of thought into thinking chinese is inexpensive is that if you go out to dinner with eight or ten people, you get about 6-10 dishes, some rice, a big tureen of soup and it usually runs to not much over 100 dollars. Since all the dishes are shared (and cooked to facilitate sharing) it feels like eating a 6-10 course meal, which if you go to a restaurant serving that will cost much more. Of course, usually in Chinese cuisine you don't get magret of duck or a 6 oz. AAA tenderloin unless you're at a strange fusion place or a really really fancy Chinese place (although the fresh steamed fish/whole chickens and duck/lobsters/a lot of seafood are usually quite a good deal) so in my opinion the quality and type of ingredients offered usually makes such a meal comparatively cheaper feeling.

      Conversely our family never considered Japanese food to be "cheap" (of course it's usually connoted with sushi here so that in itself is already not that inexpensive unless you're having some cucumber rolls and futomaki).

    2. I think some great values are available, especially in some Chinese restaurants, where a $8 vegetable dish or $6 soup is a revelation. The fact that there are great inexpensive (and quite underpriced) asian restaurants and dishes makes more expensive ones seem like a bad value in comparison. This is based on food quality alone, which is most of what I care about rather than ambiance and service.

      1. it's funny that nobody puts Japanese in these "asian food" comparisons, which is not usually cheap

        and on the higher end, plenty of people regularly pay big $$$ at places like Nobu, with no complaints

        1 Reply
        1. re: jpmcd

          My friend's father owned a Chinese restaurant and her sister owned a Japanese restaurant. My friend was thinking about opening up a restaurant a few years ago told me that she was leaning towards Japanese as she said the profit margins were a lot higher.

        2. No.

          The reason people think "Asian food" is supposed to be cheap is because most have not had authentic Chinese or Korean food, some of which can be quite pricey.

          Americanized versions of these cuisines is like dining at Denny's and thinking that American food is all about club sandwiches and chicken fried steak and priced at about 5.99 with a senior citizen discount before 5 p.m.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ipsedixit

            Word. As people are getting a taste of high end Chinese food they are getting used to the idea of paying $50 per person and above, but of course we are not talking about chowmein or fried rice.

          2. I don't know about Korean and Vietnamese restaurants, but I do have a hard time paying what I consider to be "too much" money for Chinese and Malay/Indonesian food. I visit family in Singapore and Malaysia every couple of years, and food there is super cheap. US $2 for a huge plate of stir fried noodles is the norm. So back here at home (So. CA), I automatically convert prices into Singapore dollars or Malay ringgit. If a plate of noodles costs $9.95, I think to myself "wow, that's 36 ringgit!" I can't really help it. I had an issue one time paying $10.95 for roti canai at a Malay restaurant -- it's a dish that costs like US$.75 in Malaysia. All I kept thinking was that my aunt would have a heart attack if she knew how much I just paid for my roti canai!

            It's something I've been trying to work on, but it's hard!

            6 Replies
            1. re: boogiebaby

              That's not fair comparing prices across different economic zones. The living standards in Malaysia is comparatively much lower than in the US.

              1. re: PeterL

                Yes, you are right. I was going to make the same point. For anyone who has travelled Asia & has been able to dine very well on a budget of perhaps $15/day, paying "American" or Westernized prices for dishes seems... weird. Just like any of those imported tie-dye clothes you can get for 50 cents over there, but here they'll charge you $25. Different economies. Bummer.

                1. re: PeterL

                  I didn't say it was fair, but that's just how it is, in my head at least. I have a hard time paying $10 for a plate of food that I would pay $1.00 for in Malaysia.

                  I have the same problem with clothing. Indian style tunic tops are a big fashion trend. But I won't buy them for $75 each because I know in India I could get the same thing for $10. I either wait until they go on clearance and I can get them for $20 or so or I don't get one.

                  1. re: PeterL

                    Of course, when you add in the airline ticket to get to the place that has your cherished food you've got yourself an $800 bowl of noodles.

                    1. re: Blueicus

                      Very good point! And if the price of gas goes up more....

                      It is very hard to compare the cost of food in different economies. I guess if the price difference bothers you a lot, you should just stop eating roti canai in North America. But do you really want to do that? I don't think I could. So your other choice is to make it yourself. Unfortunately, because costs of food items are expensive here, it might still be hard to match the price once you've paid for the ingredients.

                    2. re: PeterL

                      I agree. In Thailand, my sister and I made a terrific meal for ourselves from street vendors for less than $3 US (and that is probably getting charged farang prices). I would never expect a Thai three course meal for two people for $3 in the States.

                      Boogiebaby, I'm wondering where you paid $10.95 for roti canai. In NYC, it's usually $2-$3 in Chinatown. The highest I've seen it is $9 at an overpriced, terrible Pan Asian restaurant on the Upper West Side.

                  2. Some of the most expensive meals I've eaten have been at Chinese banquets. Japanese food can be pricey, often when it's Americanized (steak houses) or fusion. You're talking about a huge range of cultures and types of dining. It can be very inexpensive (can't beat the $2.50 banh mi) or very pricey. I don't think all Asian food is "supposed" to be cheap, unless that's all a person has experienced.

                    1. You get what you pay for. One of our local Chinese restaurants offers a 10 course meal for 10 people at a cost of $2288. You can also spend $10 per person for an awesome lunch or dinner there, too. But the quality isn't quite as good.

                      1. Perceptions as to a cuisine's price point may arise from the fact that ethnic (not just Asian) neighborhoods provide much of the best cheap food available. If you were to make a list of meals that cost less than $5/person and rank them according to taste and quality, ethnic foods would dominate the top of the list. Maybe that's because the inhabitants come from places where there's a strong tradition of street food as a way for a working person to get a cheap meal.

                        That's not to say that any cuisine's food can't or shouldn't be expensive. So long as the expense reflects the ingredients and effort that go into a meal, it's not inappropriate. What bugs me is when the bill for a bowl of pho or a couple of carne asada tacos (or a couple of non-ethnic hot dogs) creeps north of $10. No matter how good the food is, I feel like I'm getting ripped off. So yes, I think SOME Asian food is supposed to be cheap.

                        1. ugh. i got into a *huge* argument where i totally lost my cool on my local board w another couple of posters about the price of pho at a newer vietnamese restaurant that opened (wine/beer lists, bistro atmosphere, chef from vietnamese restaurant family who's also trained classically (french), semi-fine dining atmosphere) vs. my other favorite place in town to get pho ("ny style pho", noodle house atmosphere, no lq license, pay at counter when done, totally high-volume rapid-serve). totally different menu styles, imo the comparison is ludicrous. their position was that the chef of the new place was totally out of line and audacious for overpricing his pho when there was other great pho to be had all over town, & that he shouldn't expect any support for his restaurant from other asians, who would balk at his outrageous pricing. price difference on pho: seventy cents.

                          it makes me sad that people want to trap talented chefs into the asian all-you-can-eat-buffet or cheap noodle house genre, and that a chef's decision to serve higher quality ingredients with correspondingly higher price tags is met with suspicion and name-calling-- the hatin' has got to stop.

                          i'd link to the thread but it was mostly deleted. i used capitalization, i was screaming that they were trying to crucify this guy, i got very upset & probably out of line.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: soupkitten

                            It is interesting that some people will pay over $20 for a plate of pasta but balk at paying more for pho or something they think "should" be cheaper.

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              People generally have one defition of things like pho, so when they say that one place is audaciously overpriced, they were probably [in their minds] referencing another place where they food the food was better or equally good and cheaper. It's just difference in reference points.

                              To the topic, though, I do think certain Asian foods are naturally supposed to be cheap/inexpensive (by their nature of normally being a dish full cheap ingredients as affordable by the less affluent), just as I think there is such a category in all types of cuisine. If I want a bowl of pho or a simple dish of rice and beans, then you better have amazing ingredients to think of charging me $10-20. On the other hand, if I want perfected Peking duck or go for one of those "royalty" meals in Vietnam, I'm not going to expect cheap.

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                Sorry to hear you got so upset, but I am grateful that you took the stance that you did! There will always be people who nickle and dime everything, and that is all they can see.

                                On the plus side, it used to be that nearly all Asian places in North America were cheap joints. Nowadays, there is so much more choice, even in smaller cities. Our opportunities to eat fine Asian cuisine keep on increasing, so things are moving in the right direction. I am very grateful that the market has increased to the point that it can support more than just Americanized cheap all-you-can-eat buffets (although I like those too when they are well done). Choice = good. We are getting more and more choice every day!

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  Seventy cents? People are seriously getting their pants in a wad about seventy cents?

                                  Still and all, a chef is going to be have a tough time serving pho and competing on price with a noodle shop. And the noodle shop does a ton of volume of one or two simple dishes, so beating them on quality isn't going to be easy, either. If you're classically trained and running a fine dining establishment, why not play to your own strengths and let the noodle shop / taco truck / hot dog stand cover that end of the culinary spectrum?

                                2. It's a problem with a number of ethnic cuisines, and I agree that it represents a mindset that people should try to fight in favor of looking at the actual dining experience, quality of food, decore, and so on.

                                  It doesn't just happen with Chinese or Vietnamese food, either. Just a couple of days ago someone on my local board commented on a dinner they had at a Mexican restautrant, complaining that they thought $48 for two (tax & tip included!) was more than they expected to pay for Mexican food. But they didn't have burritos or taco combo plates or the like, they had guacamole (which at that particular restaurant is costly at $9 but is a huge serving that easily feeds three or four people), an entree of shrimp in cilantro sauce, and another entree that featured a strip steak with shredded chicken and scrambled eggs, plus a dessert. I told them I didn't think they were being fair to judge the price of such a meal by taqueria standards!

                                  1. It depends what Asian cuisine.

                                    Around here, at least, Western Chinese joints tend to be the cheapest places around, only one price step above fast food. Sure, it might not be "true" Asian food, but it's certainly Asian-influenced. I have a difficult time imagining a true high-end Chinese restaurant where courses are priced, say, at $20 or $30 a piece.

                                    If you go to New York, many of the Chinese places that appear to be authentic in Chinatown are also cheap. I remember seeing a little place selling dumplings for either 25 or 50 cents a piece.

                                    Vietnamese restaurants also tend to have very low prices. Where else can you get a giant, filling meal-sized bowl of soup with garnishes on the side for $5 or $6?

                                    I've never been to a Korean restaurant, but looking on Menupages I see a very wide spread.

                                    By no means are Japanese restaurants cheap, nor do they have that reputation. The elite and fashionable connotation attached to that cuisine, along with the price of fresh fish, tends to drive up prices.

                                    Thai food also seems to have gained a certain amount of "prestige' with non-Thai customers.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: tvdxer

                                      It would be difficult to imagine true, high-end Chinese restaurants if you have never been in one. I completely understand. I grew up eating almost entirely Chinese food. I had eaten pasta at elementary school and could not imagine why anyone would pay $20 for ketchup and noodles. :-)

                                      1. re: raytamsgv

                                        I doubt anyone -- at least in this circle -- would spend $20 on noodles with ketchup. Seriously.

                                        On the OT : the two Thai restos that are considered to be the best in Berlin (Mr. Edd's & Mao Thai) are certainly above anything one would expect to pay if they've had insanely cheap, but qualitatively equivalent food in Thailand. But it's high quality food with consistently good reviews, so yeah, you'll pay as much for dinner as you would in a comparable German or Italian resto.

                                        1. re: linguafood


                                          About eight years ago I flew into San Francisco and stayed overnight in the Marriott @ or near the airport....I do not remember exactly. Our group of golfers were continuing on to Carmel the next morning. After checking in and settling in the room, I went down to the bar and had a few.......striking up a conversation with the bartender and asking him where he and all the other restaurant people went for food......he told me hands down was a Vietnamese place that had the best food and I had to have the garlic noodles if we went there......Our group decided to give it a go and i remember it took forever to find it.......we had to wait about an hour as it was indeed a hopping place..........four diners,,,,,one bottle of wine roughly $75..... four apps, four dinners.....two side orders of the gotta have garlic noodles..........Bill total before tip......$300.........the garlic noodles, which were nothing more than lo mein noodles, vegetable oil and garlic salt............$7.50 per side..........

                                          I have never been more offended.........unless I had to pay $20 somewhere else...

                                    2. Asian dishes are, for the most part, less meat-centered. Since meat is much more expensive than vegetables, the cost of entrees at Asian restaurants should reflect this.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: pikawicca


                                        I would have to respectfully disagree with you on this one when concerning Chinese dishes. While Americanized dishes with vegetables or mixed vegetable would hold true.....traditional dishes including meats, sea foods or fish are the main feature and usually the one or two vegetables included are treated as a garnish for color.

                                        When ordering in more authentic restaurants......meats/seafoods and vegetables are not combined as much, and ordered separately. That's why the general public has a hard time accepting the higher prices and Asian Families do not . Fish is served whole according to market prices....Whole Chicken is served chopped up into pieces.....Lobster or Shrimp is separate from vegetables.....Beef or Pork usually will only be served with one green vegetable or cabbage. Even casseroles do not contain many vegetables.....usually only one type of cabbage and some mushrooms.....but never a medley......that Americanized Chinese.

                                        The only items any one should expect to be inexpensive are noodle or rice dishes.